Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Dassault Systèmes: CAD Is Not Dead 

It's a brave new world for design software.

Among the many providers of design software, there are a handful of names that stand out, and one of those is Dassault Systèmes. France's largest software company arrived on the scene in the early 80s to provide computer-aided design software to the aviation and automotive fields. Now the company furnishes its design tools and product lifecycle management software to customers in virtually every industry, from aerospace, automotive, and construction to energy, life sciences, shipbuilding and more. Later this year, the corporation's US branch, Dassault Systèmes North America, will relocate its headquarters to Waltham, Mass., part of the greater Boston area. In advance of that move, the Boston Globe interviewed Al Bunshaft, the managing director of the US subsidiary.

The Giza Necropolis, looking southeast across the Western Cemetery; photograph © Marcello Bertinetti/Archivio White StarOut of the box, Bunshaft was asked by Globe reporter D.C. Denison whether he considers computer-aided design to be obsolete. "It's not obsolete," the Dassault rep responds, "but we've come a long, long way since we started using it in the 1980s." He goes on to explain that while CAD is still used in the design of planes, trains, and automobiles, it has made headway into all sorts of other fields. For example, CAD helps facilitate urban planning, and traffic management, and was used to reconstruct the pyramid sites of Egypt. Procter & Gamble uses 3D software not only for designing shampoo bottles, but to understand how people navigate stores.

Computer reconstruction of the burial shaft arrangement

On the question of virtual prototyping, or "simulation-first" design, Bunshaft is a firm believer in the technology's necessity for competition. "People don't use computer simulation because it's cool, or because it's interesting technology. They use it because it allows them to get to market more quickly. And it lets them take costs out of their product," Bunshaft states. For example, BMW relies on virtual technology for much of its safety testing. It still employs physical crash tests, and is mandated to do so by law, but the digital software tools greatly reduce the need for physical testing, which, when you're crashing cars, is far more expensive.

Dassault Systèmes employs nearly 10,000 employees company-wide with roughly 3,000 employees in the Americas. The software maker has about 1,000 people in the northeastern US with 80 percent of those in the Boston area. The company is moving its America headquarters to Waltham, Mass., after having outgrown its existing facilities in Concord and Lowell, Mass.

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